PARIS, France (AFP) — French authorities deployed reinforcements to flashpoint cities and had made hundreds of arrests by early Sunday, on the fifth night of unrest sparked by the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old who was laid to rest the day before.
A total of 486 people had been arrested across France as of 3:00 a.m. (01:00 GMT) Sunday, the interior ministry said, though the level of violence appeared to have declined since rioting first broke out over the death of Nahel M. in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday.
“A calmer night thanks to the resolute action of the security forces,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted early Sunday.
Darmanin had told reporters earlier that 45,000 members of the security forces would be deployed overnight — the same number as the night before.
But extra forces and equipment were sent to Lyon, Grenoble and Marseille, which had previously seen intense rioting.
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In Paris and its nearby regions, where around 7,000 officers were out in force, 194 people had been arrested as of 3:00 a.m. Sunday.
In Marseille, police dispersed groups of youths Saturday evening at Canebiere, the main avenue running through the centre of the city, AFP journalists said.
By midnight, the authorities in Lyon and Marseille were reporting fewer incidents than the previous night, with 77 people arrested as of around 1:30 am in the two cities.
A number of towns have imposed overnight curfews.
French police officers patrol as demonstrators fill the street in the Champs Elysees area of Paris on July 1, 2023, five days after a 17-year-old man was killed by police in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
The protests over the death of the teen, who was of Algerian origin, have again exposed the severe racial tensions in modern France, increasing scrutiny on the police, who have long been accused of singling out minorities.
The crisis is a hugely unwelcome development for President Emmanuel Macron, who was looking forward to pressing on with his second mandate after seeing off months of protests that erupted in January over raising the pensions age.
In a sign of the seriousness of the crisis, he postponed a state visit to Germany scheduled to begin Sunday.
‘Dialogue and reconstruction’
Nahel’s funeral ceremony was held on Saturday in Nanterre, where he lived, with hundreds gathering peacefully along with his mother and grandmother.
A ceremony took place in the early afternoon at the mosque in Nanterre, and he was interred in the giant Mont Valerien cemetery in the area.
It finished at 15:30 GMT and was marked by “reflection and without incidents”, a witness told AFP.
In a rare intervention on a social issue, the French national football team, many of whose top players are of minority background, joined calls for an end to the clashes.
A person ducks down while walking past police officers preparing to disperse protesters with tear gas during a demonstration against police in Marseille, southern France on July 1, 2023, after a fourth consecutive night of rioting in France over the killing of a teenager by police. (CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
“The time of violence must give way to that of mourning, dialogue and reconstruction,” the team said in a statement posted Friday on social media by captain and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.
In a bid to limit the violence, buses and trams in France have stopped running after 9:00 p.m. and the sale of large fireworks and inflammable liquids has been banned.
The southern port city of Marseille has been the scene of clashes and looting from the center and further north in the long-neglected low-income neighborhoods that Macron visited at the start of the week.
Authorities there went a step further by halting all urban transport from 6:00 pm, including metros, and banning all protests up until Sunday.
Police reinforcements have been sent to the city, including armored vehicles and two helicopters.
Macron has urged parents to take responsibility for underage rioters, one-third of whom were “young or very young.”
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks following a government emergency meeting after riots erupted for the third night in a row across the country, at the Interior Ministry in Paris, Friday, June 30, 2023. (Yves Herman/Pool via AP)
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said Saturday that 30 percent of those arrested were minors, while Darmanin said the average age of those arrested was just 17.
The unrest has raised concerns abroad, with France hosting the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.
Britain and other European countries updated their travel advice to warn tourists to stay away from areas affected by the rioting.
China’s consulate in Marseille similarly warned its citizens to “be vigilant and exercise caution” after state-run media reported that a bus carrying Chinese tourists in the southern city was pelted with stones on Thursday.
The unrest has had a major impact on cultural events in France, with singer Mylene Farmer forced to cancel stadium concerts and French fashion house Celine cancelling its menswear show in Paris scheduled for this weekend.
A 38-year-old policeman has been charged with voluntary homicide over Nahel’s death and has been remanded in custody.
The UN rights office said Friday that the killing of the teen of North African descent was “a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.
The French foreign ministry dismissed the criticism, saying any suggestion of systemic discrimination in the police force was “totally unfounded.”